Wednesday, April 18, 2012


Prophet Of Peace, Poet Of
Justice, Lover Of The People

Bob Marley. 
Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures


Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Wednesday, April 18
, 2012

Kevin Macdonald's
"Marley" is a must-see film for Bob Marley fans as well as casual observers.  The epic documentary and biography opens on Friday in several U.S. cities, and makes history by streaming on Facebook on the musician's page on the same day. 

I've long advocated that watching films in a theater is the best possible way to experience a movie -- and the maximum, kaleidoscopic impact of "Marley" is felt there -- but the filmmakers recognize that younger people spend more time on Facebook than in a movie theater, meaning they may more readily watch "Marley" there perhaps than anywhere else.  It's a shrewd move, and the music heard in the film will be at their instant disposal, merely clicks away on their computers or anyone else's.

"Marley" is an all-encompassing film.  Part-mystery, part-revelation and all parts fascinating, "Marley" is as much an investigation as a salute to a deeply spiritual man who touched billions in such a short time and influenced countless millions.  So who was Bob Marley?  What was his background?  The Marley family background is the most remarkable yet modest aspect of Mr. Marley's humble beginnings.  Born in Jamaica, he had a father, a white man, who had not likely ever seen him, and who only ever saw Mr. Marley's mother, a black woman, once. 

Mr. Macdonald's documentary initially looks at the family name Marley as an ephemeral, elusive one but by film's end the Marley name naturally evolves and endures as an eternal one.  Identity is one of the film's key components.  We are always trying to find out about identity and its positioning as we watch "Marley".  "I'm not on the black man's side.  I'm not on the white man's side.  I'm on God's side, because he's the one who made me," or words to that effect spoken by Mr. Marley.  That god may well be Haile Selassie, the emperor of Ethiopia, whom Mr. Marley worshipped and was fascinated by.

Mr. Macdonald culls together years of great concert footage and interviews conducted over the decades.  They include Mr. Marley, Rita Marley, Bunny Wailer, Mr. Marley's mother, his son Ziggy and daughter Cedella (both from Rita), Mr. Marley's girlfriend and 1976 Miss World winner Cindy Breakspeare, Jimmy Cliff and late reggae legend Desmond Dekker and many others.  The interviews, relaxed, candid and intimate, offer a multifaceted picture of a shy, serious, devout but playful man whose best and most electric moments were lived out on stage before the world.

We are treated to anecdotes about Mr. Marley's adherence to Rastafarianism and educated about the religion and philosophy, which has millions of followers around the globe.  We get a glimpse of a man revealed as a no-nonsense parent to his children, not letting them have fun even as Mr. Marley was a charismatic, open-hearted man.    We are taught about the origins of ska and of reggae music, and Mr. Marley's pivotal and symbolic role in the Jamaican political elections of 1976 between Edward Seaga, a conservative, and the country's democratic prime minister Michael Manley.  Mr. Manley won re-election that year. 

Ziggy Marley during the documentary "Marley", directed by Kevin Macdonald.  Courtesy of Magnolia Pictures

Not surprisingly Mr. Marley's music forms the centerpiece of "Marley", music that is well-placed and synched with the various phases of his legendary career, which began in 1957 with his very first song and ended all-too-briefly and tragically in 1981, with the singer, poet-musician succumbing to cancer.

"Marley" sometimes sprawls but it always entertains and intrigues.  At times "Marley" is structurally abrupt.  Its opening seconds -- a guided tour on and narrative about the Middle Passage in slavery -- quickly gives way to a shot of pictures of Mr. Marley and his sound of his music.  That theme is never really explored again in earnest.  While some of Mr. Marley's closest confidants talk about race and openly about Mr. Marley's concern about not being able to sell out stadia to black audiences (those in the U.S.), sometimes more substantive discussions about race are abridged.

For example, when Mr. Marley's song "War" is heard -- a song that denounces racism of any kind, and by further implication the institutional and societal dominance of whites over blacks, "Marley" quickly veers from an exploration of such matters (and Mr. Marley's additional thoughts on them), jumping over, if not co-opting the song's meaning by chronicling the violence that ravaged much of Jamaica in the late 1970s, particularly around the fierce political divide between Mr. Seaga's JLP (Jamaica Labour Party) and Mr. Manley's PNP (People's National Party).

Mr. Marley had a lot on his mind politics and race-wise.  His songs ("400 Years", "War", "Zimbabwe", "Redemption Song", "Buffalo Soldier", "Get Up, Stand Up" and others) on race consciousness, political struggle and universal brother and sisterhood made that clear, but "Marley" itself regrettably short-circuits aspects of those themes in Mr. Marley's music.  There's an element of sensationalism in some revelations the interview subjects uncover.  "Marley" nonetheless offers a flavoring of Mr. Marley's roots, family, culture and reservoirs of feeling and warmth that make him a fully-realized, genuine heart and not a belated emblem of fashion or trend, even though Mr. Marley lives on today as a towering talisman for global music, political advocacy and humanity's oneness. 

Mr. Macdonald, who has directed such films as "The Last King Of Scotland", "State Of Play" and last year's documentary "Life In A Day", captures Bob Marley's life in two and a half hours.  He executes the feat with humor, sobering personal stories and moving episodes, especially in the film's final half hour.  "Marley" is a rich, familial journey into the making of arguably the 20th century's most globally admired and greatest figures in music.  Mr. Marley was a complex man, passionate about his love of people around the globe as well as his religion.  Peace was his mantra and justice his advocacy. 

Overall, "Marley" is a triumph, and captures the essence of Bob Marley, his message and meaning. 

"Marley" is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association Of America for drug content, thematic elements and some violent images.  The film contains subtitles from time to time.  The film's running time is two hours and 25 minutes. 

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